I have fond memories of the Puerto Rican Day Parade from childhood. I remember one PR parade in particular. It was the 1983 or 84. We got up early, donned our I Love Puerto Rico shirts. My sister lined her purse with her Menudo buttons, all 100 of them, and we (my mom, Millie, sister and I) jumped on the train with our flags on a stick. We ran up 5th Avenue with the rest of the girls, following the Menudo float, waving and screaming and tearing up. I screamed extra loud when I made eye contact with Johnny and he blew me a kiss. We took the train two stops to get ahead of the mayhem, so we could get closer to the street and wave at the float as it drove by.
It’s the Puerto Rican Day Parade of 2001 that I remember the most. The year before the parade made different kinds of headlines when a group of men were charged with attacking 50+ women, assaulting them, dousing them with water and ripping their clothes. It wasn’t the first year this happened but it was the first time it made the news. For years, my friends and I had come up with tactics so we wouldn’t be targeted—don’t walk through the parade, find a space and stay there. Stay with your group, preferably a large group of people who can help you out or defend you if something went down.
That year, I was with my best friend and a friend of hers. It was this friend who decided she wanted to walk through the parade. I should have listened to my instincts.
The men gathered on each side, several deep, and 15 or more long, you had to travel through these tunnels. I saw water thrown on women, hands and waists grabbed, hair pulled. I was trying to get out of there when it happened—I got scooped from behind. Scooped meaning my whole intimate area, yes, my ass and my vagina, were grabbed from behind in one fell swoop. When I tore around, ready to pounce, there were like 50 men behind me. What could I do?
Before you judge me, let me say that I was wearing a maxi dress that fell to my ankles. While it was form fitting, no, it was not painted on. The thing is, it shouldn’t matter what I was wearing, no one has a right to grab me like that without my permission. I was mortified. I felt dirty and violated and helpless. I ran out of there and have never been back to the parade since. When people ask me, “You going to the parade?” I’ve always responded, “No, thanks. I don’t want to be groped.”
To be clear, this isn’t an attack on the parade or the people who attend it. Those who act the fool are in the minority, I get that. I’ve been thinking about this as the PR parade approaches (it’s tomorrow) and as I’ve followed the #yesallwomen movement. See, this event is just one example of the many ways violence is perpetrated against women. This is just one place where men feel they have the right to touch a woman without an invitation.
A dude once threw a drink on me at a club when I wouldn’t dance with him.
Mujeres: How many of you has had some random cualquiera rub his penis on your ass at a club without so much as a “wanna dance?”
How many times has your hand been grabbed, your hair tugged on?
How many times has your waist been grabbed?
A few years ago while jogging, a guy on a passing bike slapped my ass and sped off.
Another time, I was on my bike waiting at a red light in Washington Heights when a dude crossing the street got a little too close and said, “Yo te quiero romper ese toto, mami.” (I wanna break your pussy, ma.) I gave him one swift kick and sped off. I don’t know where my foot hit but by the loud groan and obscenities that followed when I sped off, I know he felt it.
Once, when I was in my mid-twenties, a kid who was maybe ten blew me kisses as I was walking by. I laughed and said, “Really pa? You’re just a nene.” His response: “Ponte en cuatro pa’que tu vea.” (Get on all fours and you’ll see.) I was stunned speechless. He ran off. This kid learned that shit somewhere.
See, this shit happens all the time. Everywhere. You ignore their advances or turn them down, you’re a bitch, a whore, a lesbian or “you ain’t even that fly anyway.”
I was assaulted once while walking through a dark street in Bushwick. He’d tried to get my attention a few blocks away with that hissing sound that sounds alot like how people call cats (the irony of this is not lost on me). I kept walking. I wasn’t paying attention. We hit a dark stretch and I felt someone throw me up against the wall and start grabbing at my breasts and crotch. I screamed bloody murder and started swinging and scratching at him. It lasted all of 5 seconds, maybe. I’ve never forgotten that moment. Because of him, when walking through a dark area, I keep my eyes open, scan everything, behind me, in front of me. I carry my keys in my hand, a key sticking out between each finger so whoever fucks with me is going to get some real damage done to him. It’s partly why I started boxing last year. I want to be able to defend myself if something like this happens. What sucks is that I feel I have to defend myself. And that I have to teach this shit to my nine-year-old daughter.
That’s the most frightening shit about all this—that I have to teach this to my daughter. That I’ve already begun to. That I had to teach her about what some men do. She knows: if a man touches you, what do you do? Scream. Run. Tell mom. And if mom’s not there? Tell an adult.
My little girl has heard men hiss at me and throw me kisses; she’s seen them leer and lick their lips, not only disrespecting me but also disrespecting my girl. She’s heard them say dirty things that have made me turn and scream, “Have you no respect? I’m with my daughter!” One day, recently, she said, “Why are men so nasty, mom? I see the way they look at you. I don’t like it, mommy.” What could I say? My heart ached because she’s already learned, at such a tender age, what it’s like to be a woman, what we have to combat, what we have to put up with. All I could do was squeeze her hand and pull her close.
I want to protect her from this. I want to believe that we can be better, that this world can be better. I want to believe that she will be safe. I want to but…
So, I love this #yesallwomen movement and I hope the dialogue it’s spurred doesn’t die out. I hope it sparks action against this rape culture that we’ve been forced to put up with. I hope one day my little girl and I will be able to walk out of our door without having to worry about being leered at and followed, our space invaded, our bodies touched. I hope…